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Arizona's Central High first school in state to adopt new global exam system

by Mary Beth Faller - Jan. 12, 2011 12:00 AM The Arizona Republic

Central High School is the first public school in the state to adopt the University of Cambridge International Examinations, a rigorous system that will upgrade the curriculum at the Phoenix school to international standards.

Board-examination systems are one way schools in Arizona are becoming more academically competitive.

Unlike regular benchmarking tests such as AIMS and SATs:

  Board exams are complete instructional systems, already aligned with the new Common Core Standards adopted by Arizona last year.

- The end-of-course exams are internationally recognized, so students and schools can compare scores not just within a district or the state, but globally.

- Board-exam systems are broader than Advanced Placement classes or the International Baccalaureate Diploma program because they encompass all high-school grades as well as all subjects, including physical education and career-technical education.

The Center for the Future of Arizona is promoting the board-exam system after commissioning the Gallup Arizona Poll in 2009, which found that respondents wanted high-school graduates to be competitive as measured by national and international, not state, academic standards.

While Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards exam is not going away at state public schools, Central High School plans to use the Cambridge exams to prepare its students for global competition.

The school, which has 2,250 students, will introduce the program next fall to freshmen and sophomores, then extend it to all grades, said Principal Chris Jones, who has been fielding calls from other Arizona schools interested in the program.

BASIS charter schools in Scottsdale and Tucson administered the Cambridge exams last fall but have not adopted the full curriculum. Several other districts, including Fountain Hills Unified School District, are considering adopting the exams.

"This system is for all learners - special-education kids, (English-as-a-second-language) kids, and for our refugee students," Jones said. "It's going to be a prep-school experience that's free."

Schools that become affiliated with Cambridge must apply for acceptance and show they have appropriate resources, such as science labs, according to Sherry Reach, regional manager for the Americas for Cambridge.

The Cambridge program has two parts.

Students take the first part in ninth and 10th grades, after which they have the option to take the International General Certificate of Secondary Education exams. Passing the exams would pave the way for students to receive the newly created Grand Canyon Diploma, which would allow them to leave school by the end of 10th grade.

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